What does one do when you’re in Gering, Nebraska for a bike race and have time to kill? Go get more stamps in your Parks Passport, clearly!
My friend, Julie, and I were in town for the Robidoux Quick & Dirty bike race in mid-June, and I made sure there would be some time to explore Scotts Bluff National Monument, as I’m a passport stamp freak who is now becoming obsessed with selfies at entrance signs (and collecting unigrids). Julie is always up for an adventure as well (you’ll remember her from our hike to Hidden Falls in January), so after grabbing our race numbers and swag for the race, we headed to the monument.
Scotts Bluff is an 800-foot prominence that was a very important landmark on many of the historic trails criss-crossing the western United States in the mid-1800s – the Oregon Trail, Pony Express Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. The area was designated a national monument in 1919. Today there are four miles of hiking trails (which we didn’t explore, because you know, 100 mile bike race the next morning we needed to save our legs for!), a narrow drive to the summit, and a really awesome, interactive visitor’s center and store.
After grabbing our photos with the east entrance sign, we pulled into the visitor’s center. I’m a sucker for stores at national parks and monuments, and I narrowly avoided buying a stuffed prairie dog, opting instead to stamp my passport with the five stamps that are offered. (I tried unsuccessfully to lure Julie into the obsession of passport stamping… alas, I’m 1 for 2 with converting my friends… I’ll convince her one day!).
The exhibit was a lot of fun to explore. There were a lot of interactive activities such as writing messages to fellow travelers Pony Express style, an Oregon Trail mad libs, a board where you could write what trail job you’d have, and an activity around trading and making fair deals.
After we had our visitor’s center fun, we headed up the summit. The summit road closes to cars going uphill at 5:30pm, and everyone must be off the road by 6pm during the summer season. It opens to car traffic at 9am. Bicycles are only allowed when the road is closed to cars. It is a narrow road with a couple of tunnels. I suggest taking it real slow as on a few of the corners the downhill traffic was across the center line.
On top there is a great overlook of the towns of Scottsbluff and Gering, and to the east Chimney Rock, another important landmark on the historic trails. There is a hiking trail to another overlook as well.
As a kid I was obsessed with the Oregon Trail (thanks to both the computer game and growing up close to the actual trail), so I always like a good visit to brush up on my history, no matter how brief. Scotts Bluff National Monument was a great way to kill some time before dinner and to get our minds off the 100 miles of suffering on western Nebraska gravel roads that awaited us in the morning!